Dear Purdue football fans, football season is almost upon us. The start of college football should be one of the most exciting times of the year, but to many Purdue fans, it feels like a slow death march into the abyss. I get it, I really do, the last two years have been brutal, in fact, the last 10 or so years have been depressing, but here is my plea...please come back. Please come back to Ross-Ade stadium and give this team a true home field advantage. There are 7 home games on the schedule this year, and as of now, they are going to be played in front of mostly empty bleachers. Over the next few weeks I will running a series of articles called, "Baby Come Back!" in an attempt to woo you back into the Boilermaker football fold. To start things off, we'll focus on the field, with Purdue's resurgent (at least on paper) offense.
Purdue Has A Big 10 Offense Again!
The recovery from the end of the Hope era (error?) is almost complete. Simply put, Danny Hope was a good offensive line coach, by most accounts a good guy, but unfortunately, a terrible head coach at this level . He was a terrible game day coach, he was a terrible talent evaluator, and he was a terrible disciplinarian. Honestly, I don't think Darrell Hazell understood what he was walking into when he took the Purdue job. The roster was devoid of talent and depth, and the veteran talent on the team fought hard against the transition from the "players coach" Hope to a more disciplined coach in Hazell. I will now refer to the 2003 offensive depth chart to further my point.
QB: Rob Henry - Sr. (5) - I liked Rob Henry as a player, and think he could have been (a phrase used for many Hope era players) an excellent slot receiver or safety in the right program, but in no version of reality was Rob Henry a Big 10 level quarterback. Later in the season, after Rob was actually moved to safety, Danny Etling came in and took a Ronda Rouseyesque beating behind the worst offensive line in college football (in my opinion) and never recovered from the trauma.
RB: Akeem Hunt - So. - Akeem was probably the second most talented player on the offense, and there is a reason why Akeem is a long shot to make an NFL roster. He was frustratingly inconsistent, went down at the slightest suggestion of contact, and had a penchant for fumbling the ball at inopportune moments (or, in the Northwestern game last year, every possible moment). Again, on another team, Akeem would have made an excellent slot receiver / kick returner. He was an average, at best, lead back for a Boilermaker team that needed him to be great. Purdue literally had no other options behind Hunt in 2013, with Danny Etling getting the second most carries, putting up -99 yards on 55 attempts (yea, I know, most of those were sacks).
WR: DeAngelo Yancey - Fr. - Yancey started the year as an either/or with Shane Mikesky, but ended the season as the leading receiver with 546 yards and 2 touchdowns, most of those yards coming from the Etling-Yancey connection that looked good at the end of the season (only to fizzle and die in 2014). The fact that a true freshman as raw as Yancey led the Boilers in receiving really tells you all you need to know. In most competent programs, Yancey would have been deep on the depth chart or a red shirt his true freshman year.
WR: B.J. Knauf - Fr. (RS) - Knauf probably had the highest upside at his position as anyone on the depth chart, but in true Purdue fashion, he couldn't stay healthy, and is no longer playing football. Knauf was replaced by numerous players in the starting lineup in 2013 due to injury, with Danny Anthrop being the most well known replacement.
FB: Kurt Freytag -Sr.- Kurt was a good fullback. A good fullback on a bad team is sort of like having a good radio in a car with a busted transmission, you're still not going to go anywhere.
TE: Gabe Holmes - Jr. (RS) - Gabe Holmes looked like a football player, but Gabe Holmes never played like a football player. He had the talent to be a starting Big 10 tight end, but lacked a certain something to translate that talent into production. He also had some of the most inconsistent hands I think I've ever seen (which may have been part of that certain something he was missing). Justin Sinz was the real story at tight end in 2013, pulling in 41 catches for 340 yards and a team leading 4 touchdowns (that's right, a team leading 4 touchdowns, that's just not receiving touchdowns, but total touchdowns from scrimmage).
LT: Kevin Pamphile - Sr. - Athletically, Kevin Pamphile was the best player on this Purdue team. That's the reason he was the only player in this group (so far) to be drafted. He started his career at defensive tackle, and then made the transition to left tackle during his sophomore year. He was just starting to figure out the position when he ran out of eligibility. Pamphile looked the part, but was an extremely raw LT that blew several assignments that ended up with either Henry or Etling picking turf out of their teeth.
LG: Devin Smith - Sr. - Below average player who played like a below average player. He didn't have the talent to be a Big 10 starter.
C: Robert Kugler - So. - Kugler has turned out to be a solid contributor of Purdue, but at this point in his career, he was almost comically undersized to play offensive line in the Big 10. He was basically a large tight end playing center, which didn't work out very well.
RG: Trevor Foy - Sr. - Below average player who played like a below average player. He didn't have the talent to be a Big 10 starter.
RT: Justin Kitchens - Sr. - Below average player who played like a below average player. He didn't have the talent to be a Big 10 starter. He also played a big role in getting Purdue quarterbacks killed in 2013.
This may be one of the worst collections of talent to take the field as a starting line-up in the history of the Big 10. I count one 5th round NFL draft pick, in Kevin Pamphile, and Pamphile was drafted purely on what the NFL though he could become, and not what he was at Purdue. The offensive line in particular was brutally bad, followed closely by the terribleness that was the wide receiver position. Oh, yea, and Quarterback was probably Rob Henry's third best position....which isn't good for a starting quarterback in the Big 10.
Now, let's take a look at The Legends projected depth chart for Purdue this season.
QB: Austin Appleby - Jr.(RS) - Appleby has his issues. He has a slow, funky release that hurts him on timing routes and occasionally affects his accuracy on the deep ball. He also hasn't won many football games, and he has had a few games there for the winning. That said, Appleby has great size, a plus arm, is a solid leader, and is an underrated athlete with a nose of the end zone (5 rushing TDs last season). He is a huge upgrade over Rob Henry, and as we saw last year, is an upgrade over shell shocked Danny Etling (it will be interesting to see if Etling can shake it off at LSU and fulfill his obvious potential).
RB: Dexter Knox - So. - I'm not sure what we have in Knox, but I can promise you this, he isn't a slot receiver/ 3rd down back/ kick returner being forced to play running back. Knox is not the home run threat that Hunt was last year, but he's also not a guy that's going to go down when a tackler grazes his thigh, and I hope he's not a guy who will fumble away an entire game. I think that for Hazell's system, Knox is a better fit than Hunt.
WR: DeAngelo Yancey - Jr. - Yancey had a good freshman year and a bad sophomore year. To be fair to DeAngelo, he hasn't had the benefit of consistent quarterback play. He is on his third starting quarterback at Purdue, and the first two quarterbacks were relieved because they weren't getting the job done. So, the question becomes, is DeAngelo Yancey the athletic freshman wide receiver that looked like he was on his way to being a star, or is he the ghost on the field that we was last season? Either way, I'm going to predict that Junior Yancey is better than Freshman Yancey.
WR: Danny Anthrop - Sr. - Let's get this out of the way right now. I'm highly skeptical that the Danny Anthrop you see this year will be the same Danny Anthrop you saw last year. I know, I know, there has been significant improvements in surgical procedures and rehab, but still, Danny blew out more than just his ACL. He also tore his meniscus, broke his tibia and femur (I'm assuming he broke them when the ACL gave out, causing them to slam together) and tore cartilage. I did the exact same thing, and let me tell you, it's life changing pain. I'll be interested to see Danny cut hard and play with guys diving at his leg. That said, Anthrop has proven it on the field, and is the most dynamic playmaker on the roster if (and again, I'm skeptical) he's healthy and his mind is right. Regardless, he is an upgrade over B.J. Knauf, based on his production.
WR: Greg Phillips - So. - Out of the three starting receivers, Phillips is the biggest question mark. He played some as a true freshman last season, bringing in 10 catches for 151 in his opening campaign. He is a solid athlete, maybe not quite as athletic as a guy like Gary Bush, but Phillips has a better chance to translate whatever athleticism he has into production on the field. In addition to Phillips, guys like Cam Posey, Domonique Young, Trae Hart, and Anthony Mahoungou will be pushing for playing time.
TE: Jordan Jurasevich - Sr. - This is the one position that where the 2013 gets a nod, and only because Justin Sinz put up good numbers. Jordan Jurasevich is a tough kid who has worked his tail off make it to the top of the Purdue depth chart. Jurasevich is going to block like his life, and position, depends on it, and in Hazell's offense, that's not a bad thing, but he's not going to be the hi-bred tight-end that is so pervasive in both college and pro football. However, there is one guy on the Purdue roster that I have my eye on, Brycen Hopkins. Hopkins was a star basketball player/ football player in Nashville. Terry Malone (new Purdue tight end coach and former New Orleans Saints tight ends coach) just helped turn a player with a similar resume (Jimmy Graham) into one of the most dominant players in the NFL. Now, I'm not saying that Brycen Hopkins will end up as the next Jimmy Graham, but I like his chances to be the next great Purdue tight end.
LT: David Hedlin - Sr. - In a way, Hedlin is much like Kevin Pamphile. Hedlin is a physical freak still learning to play left tackle. Fortunately for Hedlin, he's going to have significantly better players around him on the offensive line. Hedlin has all the physical tools you can ask for in a left tackle (other than I wish he was 2 inches taller) and has the potential to be on one of the All-Big 10 teams. I'll say he and Pamphile (the only draft pick on the 2013 team) are a push.
LG: Jason King - Jr. (RS) - King is a solid player, not spectacular, but big, physical, and experienced, and you can win with those sort of players on the interior of your offensive line. He's a big upgrade over Devin Smith and is definitely a Big 10 caliber player.
C: Robert Kugler - Sr. (RS) - Kugler is the only holdover from the 2013 team, and he will be one of the better centers in the Big 10, if not the nation. He is still slightly undersized, but much less than when he was a sophomore trying to compete in Big 10. Senior Kugler is a much better player than Sophomore Kugler.
RG: Jordan Roos -Jr. (RS) - Much like Jason King, Roos is a solid player. He is big physical, and experienced (sound familiar?). It will be interesting to see if he can hold off man/mountain Marteese Patterson, who has a much higher upside than Roos, but doesn't have the experience under his belt. Either way, he's an upgrade over Foy, a tackle forced to play guard because of lack of other options.
RT: Cameron Cermin - Jr. (RS) - Cermin is a guy that can, and has, played all over the offensive line for Purdue. I would be comfortable with him playing LT, G, or even C in a pinch, but I think RT is his best position. If he is able to stay health, I think Cermin can make a big move at RT this season. I'm a big Cam Cermin fan, and needless to say, he is an upgrade over Justin Kitchens.
This offense, at worst, is far better than anything Purdue could put on the field 2 years ago. The offensive line should be one of the better lines in Big 10. The running back position is deep with talent (albeit untested talent). There are plenty of wide receivers to throw on the field (we should be able to at least find 3 competent players in our collection of pass catchers). The quarterback position is undecided, but in much better shape than in 2013, with redshirt freshman David Blough pushing veteran Austin Appleby, and record setting true freshman Elijah Sindelar waiting in the wings to make his move. This offense won't put up video game numbers, but they will be more consistent than the last two years. It will give fans a better idea of what a Darrell Hazell offense actually looks like. In part, Hazell was hired on the strength of his offense at Kent State. I contend that we have yet to see that offense because of personnel limitations. This year, Purdue has more pieces in place than the last two years. This won't be the Drew Brees or Kyle Orton offense, but it might be good enough to not only keep Purdue in some games, but actually win a few. I hope you're in the stands when that happens.